Virginia School Forbids Exploration, Discussion, Non-Curriculum Learning

Last week, we wrote about the death of liberal-arts education. Now we’ve found a school that’s banned curiosity altogether.

Westfield High, a school in Fairfax County, Virginia, recently enacted a shocking set of rules for students in AP history classes. The sheet, titled “Expectations of Integrity,” states:

You are only allowed to use your own knowledge, your own class notes, class handouts, your own class homework, or The Earth and Its Peoples textbook to complete assignments and assessments unless specifically informed otherwise by your instructor.

Students were also banned from speaking to friends or family about their assignments, or doing outside research (especially online). Even complete strangers were off limits:

You may not discuss/mention/chat/hand signal/smoke signal/Facebook/IM/text/email to a complete stranger any answers/ideas/questions/thoughts/opinions/hints/instructions.

Though the tone is light in parts, the rules were still enforced with a promised failing grade and an honor code referral.


I grew up in a family full of teachers. I’ve heard stories and had debates over disciplinary actions and cheating at all levels, from kindergarten to college. I’m also a product of public schooling, and I’ve seen, first-hand, the challenges that faced at least my teachers.

But enforcing rules like this turns schools into assembly lines. Those who fall out of line, who want to move faster (or slower) or in a different direction, get stamped “defective” and shipped off to the outlet stores.

Westfield Principal Tim Thomas defended the decision by saying that the teachers “were only trying to be fair. Some students have more help and resources than others. They should not be allowed to use materials classmates cannot get.”

There are myriad factors that aren’t being taken into account: demographics, poverty, and a slew of other important issues with our school system. But for a school to try to even out the playing field, which is admirable, it ought to help make those resources accessible, not suppress them. Extend library hours. Open up computers to students during lunch. Work with nearby college campuses to request volunteer tutors. To the best of its ability, a school can make information available to all who seek it out.

Isn’t the most valuable—and, some would argue, educational—part of school the independent pursuit of knowledge that doesn’t come from textbooks? To ask students not to look for outside sources, not to explore, and not to talk about school with the people around them is archaic at best, oppressive at worst.

For more on this subject, watch Ken Robinson, the recipient of the Benjamin Franklin award, give an amazing speech about today’s educational paradigm on TEDTalks. Or watch an animated excerpt below.

About Lu Fong

Lu Fong was a staff writer and blog editor for the Good Men Project in its formative years. As the requisite woman on staff, her hobbies included cleaning, cooking, knitting, fainting, and childbearing. Follow her on Twitter @lufong.


  1. Wow. Just stumbled across this and am absolutely dumbstruck (yet still I type : ) ). It terrifies me to think that this is okay in an AP class of all places.
    We have now been homeschooling for 5 years and I find that, though I still believe that institutionalized education can work, there are so many examples of it *not* working that I have very nearly given up on it.

    I know there are some incredible examples of sacrifice and saintliness in many teachers working today, but somehow I wonder if there individual acts of bravery and courage are any match for a system destined for demoralization and failure.

    I also now question the validity of “drop out” statistics and have begun to wonder if those who choose to “drop out” are in some way making a statement: perhaps they need to be listened to more. Perhaps they have real issues with the institution they are “dropping out” of and, were they more empowered, could affect change in that system or make better choices upon leaving it.

  2. Wow. I am floored. The teachers agreed to/wanted this? Whatever happened to the “I had to walk four miles to school in the freezing rain” concept of working toward our goals? You know EVERYONE wasn’t walking this icy trek back in the day. Some kids got there without any trouble whatsoever. That’s the human race, right?

  3. Yeah, becuase that’s how the “real world” works, right? No one talks, learns, researches, discusses, argues, finds resources, reads, or otherwise engages with their fellow human beings. Right.

  4. /cry

  5. Sharon Elin says:

    Quote from post: “Westfield Principal Tim Thomas defended the decision by saying that the teachers “were only trying to be fair. Some students have more help and resources than others. They should not be allowed to use materials classmates cannot get.’ ”

    Wait… what he’s really saying is, let’s level the field at the lowest possible denominator and bring everyone down to that most common level. And that’s fair? No, that’s incredibly reminiscent of the Dark Ages.

    Collaboration, resourceful exchange of ideas… that’s what the real world of learning offers outside the classroom. When I need to know more about something at work, I check with colleagues and research other options; I don’t depend on “what I already know” or refer to a single textbook.

    The intellectual restraints enforced in this AP setting are deplorable –so narrow minded that they are strangling learning (not to mention the love of learning). It’s a highly self-destructive educational model. The problem is, they’ll take a wave of students down with them.


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